Franco Zeffirelli's ‘Rigoletto’ to premiere at Oman's Royal Opera House Muscat in December

The late stage and film director was working on the production before he died in 2019

The Royal Opera House in Muscat opened with the Puccini opera 'Turandot' (pictured), directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Ten years later, a posthumous new work from the Italian director will premiere at the venue in November 2021. Silvia Razgova / The National
The Royal Opera House in Muscat opened with the Puccini opera 'Turandot' (pictured), directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Ten years later, a posthumous new work from the Italian director will premiere at the venue in November 2021. Silvia Razgova / The National

Franco Zeffirelli’s final stage production will premiere at the Royal Opera House Muscat in December.

The National can exclusively reveal the late film and stage director’s version of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto will be performed over three nights.

Opening on Thursday, December 16, the opera will also be be held on Friday, December 17 and Sunday, December 19.

Tickets will soon be made available from the venue’s website.

A co-production with Italy’s Arena di Verona, the lavish opera features the company’s orchestra and choir performing alongside the Omani Opera Choir Group under the baton of British conductor Jan Latham-Koenig.

The costumes will be designed by long-term Zeffirelli collaborator Maurizio Millenotti.

The Italian received two Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design for his work on Zeffirelli films Otello (1986) and Hamlet (1990).

News of the premiere comes as the Royal Opera House Muscat prepares to resume live performances after the pandemic halted all shows from March 2020.

The National can reveal the venue will launch its 2021 / 2022 season in November, with the full programme to be unveiled in September.

Zeffirelli's Rigoletto was initially announced in 2018 and meant to premiere in November 2020 as part of Oman's 50th anniversary celebrations.

Not only would it have been the first Verdi opera by Zeffirelli since a 1964 production at London's Royal Opera House, but it would have marked the director's first return to the Royal Opera House Muscat in a decade.

From left, late director Franco Zeffirelli meets Oman's late ruler Sultan Qaboos at the inauguration of the Royal Opera House Muscat in 2011. Courtesy Royal Opera House Muscat
From left, late director Franco Zeffirelli meets Oman's late ruler Sultan Qaboos at the inauguration of the Royal Opera House Muscat in 2011. Courtesy Royal Opera House Muscat

The glittering venue announced itself to the world in 2011 with an opening-night production of Puccini’s Turandot.

Directed by Zeffirelli, the opera was attended by Oman’s late ruler, Sultan Qaboos.

“The intrinsic synchronicity of celebrating our 10th anniversary season with a wonderful work by the same great director with whom we opened our first season, gives this moment a special significance,” Royal Opera House Muscat director general Umberto Fanni tells The National.

“With Puccini's Turandot in 2011 we began a wonderful relationship and a journey full of hope for the Royal Opera House Muscat.

“Now, in 2021, with Rigoletto, we mark the achievement of a decade of brilliant musical performances, with the anticipation of many more to come."

With Zeffirelli dying aged 96 in 2019, Fanni says his vision will be realised with the director's adopted son, Pippo, involved in the production’s management.

The Royal Opera House in Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman on Tuesday evening, Oct. 11, 2011, during the first dress rehearsal of its inaugural season. The premiere production, opera Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, which will open to the public on October 14th, was specially commissioned by the opera house to be led and designed by the Italian director and producer Franco Zeffirelli, and the Fondazione Arena di Verona orchestra will be conducted by the famous Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. (Silvia Razgova/The National)
The Royal Opera House in Muscat opened with a performance of 'Turandot'. Silvia Razgova / The National

The 'Italian-style' passion of Franco Zeffirelli

A maestro of the screen and stage, Zeffirelli's operas set new standards for production.

Born in Florence, Zeffirelli first established himself in the early 1950s by directing comic operas by 19th-century Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. He went on to helm major productions across Europe and the US, starring revered sopranos Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland.

16th September 1960: The then relatively unknown Judi Dench with John Stride in rehearsal for a production of 'Romeo And Juliet', produced by Franco Zeffirelli at the Old Vic theatre in London. Photo by John Pratt/Keystone Features/Getty Images
Judi Dench with John Stride in rehearsal for a production of 'Romeo and Juliet', produced by Franco Zeffirelli, at London's Old Vic Theatre in 1960. Getty Images

It was a 1960 production of Romeo and Juliet at London’s The Old Vic, starring a then-unknown Judi Dench, for which Zeffirelli received international acclaim, with critics praising the "Italian-style" passion of the performances and innovative set design.

The Old Vic went on to become the venue for many acclaimed productions including Eduardo De Filippo’s plays Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Filumena Marturano, starring Australian actress Joan Plowright.

Zeffirelli also went on to direct high-profile productions for New York's Metropolitan Opera including La Boheme, Tosca and Don Giovanni.

Zeffirelli's eye for design and colour translated well to the big screen.

After his well-received debut – 1967's The Taming of the Shrew starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – he found box-office success and a Best Director Oscar nomination for 1969's Romeo and Juliet.

With English actors Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as the star-crossed lovers, the film was praised for its luscious visuals and moved eminent US critic Roger Ebert to declare it the "most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made".

Zeffirelli's fondness for literary classics resulted in further film adaptations, including Shakespeare's Hamlet in 1990, starring Mel Gibson, and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre with actresses Charlotte Gainsbourg and Anna Paquin sharing the title role.

Zeffirelli's final film was Callas Forever, a 2002 fictionalised account of the life of Greek-American soprano Maria Callas, starring Fanny Ardant and Jeremy Irons.

Back to the stage

Rigoletto is part of the first batch of public shows at the Royal Opera House Muscat in 18 months.

In March 2020, the venue cancelled the rest of its 2019 / 2020 season as a safety precaution against Covid-19.

Like many cultural organisations across the region, the opera house migrated performances online and launched the From our Stage to Your Home series in April, with pre-recorded concerts at the venue featuring the best of the sultanate’s classical musical talent.

Updated: June 1, 2021 03:04 PM

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